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Majority of Brits think A&E services are over used but half think it is hard to get a GP appointment


The first ever large-scale research into attitudes towards emergency care from the most recent British Social Attitudes Survey - carried out by The National Centre for Social Research and funded by the NIHR has revealed significant differences in perspectives by a range of socio-demographic factors, such as area deprivation, age, young children in the household and gender.

The 2018 British Social Attitudes survey consists of 3,879 interviews with a representative, random sample of adults in Britain. The questions featured in the research were asked of 2,906 respondents by the National Centre for Social Research and commissioned by the University of Sheffield.

The Drivers of Demand for Emergency and Urgent CarE (DEUCE) study, funded by the NIHR’s Health Services and Delivery Research (HS&DR) Programme finds:

  • People living in deprived areas are more likely to prefer Accident & Emergency departments (A&Es) over their General Practitioner to get tests done quickly, find it more difficult to get an appointment with their GP and think A&E doctors are more knowledgeable than GPs.
  • Parents with children under five are most likely to have used an A&E in the last year, to think it is hard to get an appointment with their GP, less likely to trust their GP but are also more likely to use the internet to try to decide what the problem might be.
  • Men are less knowledgeable about how to contact a GP during out of office hours and less likely to use the internet to research a health problem.

Researchers found that the population is fairly united (86%) in the belief that A&Es are overused. When asked whether they had actually accessed A&E services in the previous 12 months for themselves or others, 32% of the public and more than half of parents with a child under five (54%) report they have done so at least once. In contrast, 29% of those without young children in the household say they have visited A&Es in the same period.

Around half (51%) the population agrees that it is hard to get an appointment with a GP. Sixty five percent of the total population have confidence in GPs, while 11% state they do not have much confidence. This compares to 18% of those living in the most deprived areas, 16% of people with no qualifications and 20% of parents with a child aged under five who express little confidence. In contrast, 10% of those without young children and 8% of degree holders and 8% of those living in the least deprived areas feel the same.

Professor Alicia O’Cathain, Director of the Medical Care Research Unit at the University of Sheffield, said: “Today’s findings illustrate that while the majority of the British population are satisfied with NHS services, there are marked differences in attitudes and understanding between different social groups when it comes to views on access and confidence in A&Es and GPs.”

More information on the study is available on the NIHR Journals Library.